The Highlands

After an amazing couple days in Edinburgh, we picked up our rental car and headed north, toward our next destination, the Highlands. On our way to Kinlochleven, our first destination, we had a few good spots in mind to stop.

The first was The Kelpies, an enormous set of sculptures depicting the mythological shape-shifters of Scottish lore.

At 30 meters tall (100 feet), they’re an impressive sight, especially up close. Completed in 2013, they’ve drawn visitors to their home in Falkirk ever since. It was amazing watching the videos of their construction in the visitor center.

Back on the road, we began to leave the busier byways behind. After a few wrong turns trying to find our next stop, we arrived at Castle Doune. Although it’s having some work done, it’s easy to recognize the castle from appearances in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlander (Castle Leoch) and Game of Thrones (Winterfell). The castle version of a celebrity!

Originally built in the 13th century, of course Doune Castle has a storied history of its own. It has seen a lot of action, from the Scottish Wars of Independence to the Jacobite uprising. Because of the strengthening taking place, we weren’t able to go inside, but the grounds were beautiful for a short wander.

As we continued on the winding road, we were soon in loch territory. We skirted the beautiful Loch Lubnaig, part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

As we were all starting to get a bit hungry, we were fortunate enough to stumble upon a delicious spot, Broch Cafe on Loch Voil. After some delicious sandwiches, tea and of course something sweet to polish it all off, we were back on the road for the final (and most scenic stretch).

This is when it truly began to feel like the Highlands I had dreamt of, misty valleys and shrouded hills, with the faint sense of bagpipes somewhere in the background, of ancient ways and myths that seem to cross into reality in a place like this.

It’s not hard to picture a night in these windswept expanses, where kelpies and fairies aren’t a story but something you might easily encounter around the next bend.

We stopped at the lookout for Buachaille Etive Mòr, a popular hike in the area. It may be one of the windiest places I’ve ever encountered, and that’s saying something for a person from Wellington. But boy, was it worth it for the otherworldly beauty of this place.

The rain had rolled in too, so time to nip back into the shelter of the car, at least until the next pullover spot. We had to briefly stop to appreciate the Three Sisters, Aonach Dubh, Beinn Fhada and Gearr Aonach.

Not even rain and high winds could take away from these incredible surroundings.

A few minutes later, we arrived in Glencoe and parked for a wander, the worst of the weather behind us. We walked down the main road before turning on to a side street to visit the Glencoe Massacre Memorial, commemorating the MacDonalds who were murdered not far from this site in 1692. It’s a horrible moment in history, commemorated in a peaceful, beautiful spot.

Glencoe is a tiny village, but big enough to have a small shop with wine and a few bites to eat that we could bring along to our accommodation for the night. Oh yeah, and of course there was an old telephone booth.

It was just a few minutes along the shores of Loch Leven to Kinlochleven, where we’d be staying for the night. We couldn’t have chosen a better spot than this picturesque village with a couple pubs within walking distance. Even more fitting, our host was a Kiwi. We headed to the MacDonald Hotel for dinner, which consisted of some haggis pizza and other local delicacies. Much better than the other McDonald’s I’ve been to. The Great Glen Way, a popular multi-day Highland walk, passes through Kinlochleven, and the hotel is a popular stopover for hikers. I’d love to do it one day!

The next morning, Andy and I set out early for a walk into the hills. The trail to the Grey Mare’s Tail Falls started just across the street from our Airbnb.

After the falls, we continued uphill on the half path, half stream, toward Mamore Lodge.

Views out over Kinlochleven and the loch below opened up beneath us. The valley stretched out into the distance, framed by the peaks known as the Paps of Gelncoe.

We had our first glimpse of the derelict Mamore Lodge, on an outcrop in the distance where we were headed.

We passed the top of the falls that we had climbed up from, following somewhat questionable directions from a Highland walks website I had found.

Soon, the trail dipped into the forest, a fairytale land of flowers and burbling brooks.

We emerged into a clearing and the Mamore Lodge loomed in front of us, a bit foreboding in its disrepair.

Closed for over a decade, no one seems to know what to do with it. It’s such a shame, as it’s an incredible spot, and I can only imagine how lovely it would’ve been to stay at. We followed the road leading to the lodge back downhill. It was a lot easier going than the rocky path we’d taken up.

Bluebells were everywhere, something that also seemed to fit perfectly into my mental image of wild, wonderful Scotland.

We linked up with a short stretch of the Great Glen Way as we looped back toward our house. It was easy to see how popular it is, with many walkers setting out for the day with big packs, headed uphill. We passed at least a dozen people, not having seen a soul on the rest of our walk.

After a vigorous morning outing, we were back at our Airbnb, the cozy Eakie House. Time to pack up and hit the road to Loch Ness and the rest of our Highland adventure.

Stay tuned as we keep an eye out for Nessie, visit battlefields and ancient stone circles, and drink some whisky. Ah, the Highlands!

1 thought on “The Highlands

  1. Wonderful wild adventures. We must visit the Kelpies sometime


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